Week 9: Cam Jordan, New Orleans Saints
Analysis already provided on page 1.
Week 10: Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers
Analysis already provided on page 1.
Week 11: Leonard Floyd, Los Angeles Rams
I really have no idea how the Rams plan to generate edge pressure this season, but my best guess is Samson Ebukam on the right side and Leonard Floyd on the left, with Terrell Lewis and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo backing them up.
None of those players are threatening one-on-one pass rushers, and Floyd, who had just three sacks in his final year in Chicago, may be the most disappointing of the bunch. The former ninth overall pick never stopped relying heavily on inside moves to win off the edge, becoming predictable and easy for opposing tackles to shut down. Wirfs should roll this week.
Week 12: Frank Clark & Alex Okafor, Kansas City Chiefs
Obviously Clark is the more formidable of the two pass rushers, but Okafor, who had five sacks in 2019, aligned to Wirfs’ side a little more often last season. Neither player was at their best last year, but Clark, who had eight sacks in 2019 and 13 the year before, seems likely to get back to the quality pass rusher he’s been throughout most of his career before arriving in Kansas City.
Still, I’m not sure Wirfs is going to see Clark in heavy doses in Week 12. The Chiefs heavy-handed edge rusher is a tough matchup who brings a great first step and a physical rush plan, which should test Wirfs considerably if they do end up slated against each other.
Week 14: Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings
Hunter has been one of the best defensive ends in the NFL for a long time now, but last season he took his game to another level with another 14.5 season after producing that amount in 2018. Hunter’s got a ton in his repertoire, and he’s finally learning to put it all together. Double swipes, cross chops, long arms, etc. He’s a monster. And when all of that fails, Hunter is a better athlete than 99 percent of the league and has a motor that never quits. Wirfs is going to need help on this one.
Danielle Hunter is 24 years old; that is all. pic.twitter.com/e5VqrNr8X1
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 30, 2019
Week 15 and Week 17: Dante Fowler, Atlanta Falcons
It took a few years, but Fowler finally became a solid player with good production over the past couple seasons, including a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2019. He’ll never be a dominant one-on-one rusher due to a lack of consistency in approach and execution, but Fowler plays hard and has a nice counter game when his initial rush plan is stopped.
If Wirfs gets the sixth-year pro in his sights, he better finish the job. Don’t leave Fowler alive to pick up hustle sacks.
Week 16: Julian Okwara & Romeo Okwara, Detroit Lions
The Okwara brothers are likely to split time on the left side of the Lions defense across from standout edge rusher Trey Flowers. Romeo is a good run stuffer with a limited pass rush skill set, evidenced by 1.5 sacks last year after a career-high 7.5 in 2018, while Julian was one of the more raw top 100 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame where he posted 15.5 career sacks, including five last year. Wirfs should be able to dominate this match-up, a rare opportunity in a season full of challenges.
It’s a brutal opening season stretch for Wirfs, who faces six former first-round pick opponents over the first five weeks of his rookie campaign, then five more over the rest of the season. Not only is Wirfs slated to face high-pedigree competition, but even most of his non-first round match-ups are brutal as well. Hunter, Clark and the Smith brothers are all high-quality pass rushers, while Crosby and Golden will present competitive challenges in their own right. The 18 pass rushers Wirfs is set to face in 2020 posted a combined 152.5 sacks in 2019.
With an abbreviated offseason and very few opportunities for Wirfs to get live reps without a preseason before the season begins, it’s imperative that the Bucs don’t leave him on an island against top competition early in the year. The last thing Wirfs needs is to start floundering and develop bad habits as a result. Yes, there will be opportunities for him to grow in one-on-one situations, but it is a steep jump from college pass protection to the NFL.
Head coach Bruce Arians would be wise to adapt some of his offense to help protect Wirfs early on, until the rookie gets his feet under him and begins to adjust to the pace of a game that he won’t experience until Week 1 rolls around, and Cameron Jordan is staring at him from the other side of the line of scrimmage. No rookie is in an easy spot this season, but there is little question that Wirfs’ faces one of the toughest situations of any first-year player in the NFL. How the Bucs coaching staff helps him handle those opportunities will be crucial to the team’s offensive success and the Iowa product’s development.